On August 30, an Indian state High Court struck down a law requiring people who want to convert to Christianity to give a civil magistrate 30 days advance notice. Just how one provides advance notice of a future intent to convert is anyone's guess, and was doubtlessly one of the reasons the Indian court struck this crazy law down.
The law was one of two anti-conversion laws challenged in the state of Himachal Pradesh
that drastically restricted the religious freedom of Christians and those of other religions considering converting to Christianity.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys and allies represented Evangelical Fellowship of India in the lawsuit that led to the law's invalidation. Having won the battle over this law, we knew the second law provided additional barriers to religious freedom and that the High Court had refused to strike it down. This second law essentially bans any successful evangelism under the pretense of protecting the weak-minded and the weak-willed.
Like so many of the more dangerous restrictions on religious freedom around the world, the law – at least superficially – seems perfectly reasonable at first blush.
It outlaws any conversions to Christianity that are the result of "force, fraud, or inducement," a seemingly sensible proposition. Unfortunately, in the hands of the local Hindu police officials assigned to enforce the law, the following have been deemed to be illegal "inducements" to Christian conversion: a promise of eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, the building of a Christian school, hospital, or orphanage, the building or repair of damaged homes, and the feeding and caring for the poor.
Should any one of these or similar circumstances be found to "induce" a conversion to Christianity, the act is illegal and the person responsible for the conversion is a criminal. Pity the poor missionary or pastor.
And by the way, wouldn't this have made Mother Theresa's entire ministry a criminal enterprise?
In truth, the law effectively silences anyone who shares the Christian Gospel message – and this of course is exactly what its supporters intend. We have appealed the court's ruling affirming the law to the Indian Supreme Court.
The religious makeup of India is important to consider. The country has 28 states and a population of 1.2 billion. Ninety percent of India's population is Hindu, and a mere 2.6 percent is Christian. Yet because of fear over the potential power of the Christian message and its appeal to the pervasively oppressed 150 million Dalits (formerly called "untouchables), who make up the bottom rung of the Hindu caste system, extreme measures are necessary to prevent mass conversion. This includes enacting the kinds of laws described above, along with beatings, threats, intimidation, and the murder of converts to Christianity on a daily basis.
Many of the more militant Hindu's have even called for the "cleansing" of all non-Hindu religions from India and renaming the country "Hindustan."
Seen in this light, our legal challenge is not only about religious liberty, but about dignity, hope, and self-determination for a terribly downtrodden people. For in Christianity, unlike some other faith systems, all are created in God's image – even untouchables.